• Sue Steiner

Specialize or Individualize??

In other words…. do I make this horse I have fit into the mold of what ~I~ want him to be or see what he is already becoming and go with that? 

I have been so guilty of this myself.  I fall in love with a horse.  I have a specific  discipline or activity I need the horse for.  The idea of what I want the horse to do for me is different than what the horse is best suited for. 

My first example…. I had a NSH (1/2 saddlebred 1/2 Arab) grey mare who I loved dearly.  She spent most of her life up until I bought her being ridden in an indoor arena or a show ring.   I boarded her for a few months (in this same environment) and then we got our farm.  I brought her home and she (and I) encountered a whole new riding experience!  No longer did she have the same 4 walls of her indoor arena.  No longer did she have the protection from the elements while being ridden.  Some new experiences and sensation for her where – mud, snow, water, wind, rustling leaves.   Poor Annie’s brain would get on instant overload at the sounds of rustling leaves.  She was often ridden alone now at my farm instead of in a continual circle with many other horses going around and around and around.  Annie by nature was a follower so again now she (and I) were WAY out of our comfort zone. 

That was almost 20 years ago and I have seen that same scenario played out with different themes over and over again as people get a horse and try to adapt and train the horse for something in which it is not best suited for.  The same thing can be said for using a horse in the wrong discipline.  A western pleasure, slow jog horse moves much differently than a park horse in the Arabian show circuit.  It would be like banging your head on a wall to try to turn one into the other. 

Anyone who has read this blog before knows I often see myself in my horses.  The problems I encounter with my horses help me to work thru solutions I need in other areas of my life. 

I’ve been struggling with how growing pains in my art life recently.  I see now I was trying to fit my art into a box rather than let my art tell me what and where it needs to go.  A few years ago I was given the advise to ‘specialize’.  In order to get commissions (which is the bread and butter for most artists) I was told I needed a recognizable, definite style.  I needed to narrow down my focus and become more uniform in what I was offering.  The buying public likes predictability and when they order a commission they want to know what they are getting.  This made sense to me as a consumer.  At that time I worked in many mediums and subjects.  Horses and animals have always been a favorite but I enjoyed mixing things up a bit.  I had tried to offer commissions in all the different mediums and styles I could do but that was confusing for people and cumbersome for me– so many choices and art supplies!!!  I could go this way or that way or do this thing or that thing….. ugh!   Way too hard to explain for a visual person who can’t always put the images in her mind into words– thats why I paint!  🙂 

Anyways I ‘specialized’.  I offered only a couple choices.  I fell in love with oils and eliminated the other choice of mediums.  I still had the problem of whether to do realistic or impressionistic or expressionistic.   I can work large or small– detailed or not.  I can paint abstract or more traditional.  Problem is to rope in those different styles is like trying to rope in a horse who has its mind set on something completely different!  My husband describes it as trying to herd chickens!  Its not that I can’t DO those things… I just can’t do them on a regular, predictable schedule according to when someone else wants it.  (interjecting tears of frustration!!!)

This roping in was beginning to feel stifling…. but had I not been told I needed to specialize and refine my focus to be successful as an artist? 

I read artist ‘How To’ blogs and articles.  I heard the word ‘discipline’ more than once or twice.  I read about how to make money and how to grow your business.  My artist mind doesn’t give a hoot about anything to do with numbers so this was all well and good but still did not address the root problem.  In fact I have been self employed in non art related work for years and all of what I read made perfect sense again…. just not in my particular situation or touching on what was important to me.  (more tears of frustration)

I came back to my primiary goal in painting.  Sure, I want to sell my work.  I use the sales of my artwork to feed my real life equine buddies.  One feeds the other and visa versa.  But selling could not be the end all and be all of everything.  I can not crank out, narrowly focused, uniform work (can you say B-O-R-I-N-G??)  🙂  Not that each piece is boring but to do the same prescribed work according to how someone else wants it IS boring if that is my main focus.  I actually find it hard to do anything art related twice.  So now I find its ~okay~ to be creative but not too creative.  I got to grow a bigger left brain in order to be sucessful.  (We won’t even talk about the meaning of success.) That is like me teling my arabs– its okay to act, think and be an arab but not too arab like!  When are you going to think like a quarter horse???

I paint for the pure joy of it and if the joy was going to be disciplined forget it!  LOL!!!  Whats that saying… you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink?  My free range, wild bronco inner artist is a hard working beast but demands at the very least the illusion of control.  Who of you out there hasn’t encountered an alpha mare or dominant horse who is well trained and a pleasure to ride ONLY because you let them think it is THEIR idea?  I had a tb mare like that.  Push her and she’d plant her feet and dig in for the fight… but let her think its HER idea and she was a working machine!!

So in my growing pains as an artist I am learning that my inner artist is an alpha mare just like that!  I have to nudge and be gently persistant but also be mindful that variety is the spice of life for an artist and conformity and predictibilty – whether that be in medium, content, style, technique or subject matter…. I have got to switch things up and often to let the inner artist/bronco think its still out on the range!  And any of this is subject to change depending on the inner artist/bronco’s particular mind set at any given time!  Trying to figure out how to tell a potential client all this and not sounds nuts will need to be figured out at some point.  Just like a alpha horse- find a solution only to encounter another challenge!!  🙂

So I suddenly feel free to grow and change as an artist and continue to become whatever it is I am becoming!  I suspect, just like my tb mare, just the idea and recognition on my part that I DO NOT have to be any one thing turns the power struggle into a pleasurable ride! 

I am bookmarking my own blog and reminding myself to remember this lesson!  A guru horse trainer said something along these lines:  Your dream horse is the one thats already in your barn.  Words to live by even for us humans!

Have a great day! Sue Steiner




© Copyright 2023. No animals were harmed in the making

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